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A City is not a Computer

Last updated Aug 17, 2021 Edit Source

Reboot event with Shannon Mattern on her new book A City Is Not A Computer. Main summary and introduction on the Substack here.

# Article Notes

Source: A City is not a Computer

# Sidewalk Labs

Doctoroff, the founder of Sidewalk Labs: “What would a city look like if you started from scratch in the internet era — if you built a city ‘from the internet up?’”

Sidewalk aims to be the ‘fourth revolution’ of urban infrastructure where the first 3 were

  1. The Steam Engine
  2. Electricity Grid
  3. Automobile

Constant theme of Doctoroff is that of constant move fast and break things of innovation.

# ‘New Cities’

Is it possible to build ‘smart cities’ tabula rasa?

A sort of Collingridge dilemma where they are constantly developing and “versioning” much like a software product in an agile process.

# Cities as information centres

Not only for transmitting information within a generation (breadth-wise) but also between generations (depth-wise): generational learning and Theory of Niche Construction!

“By means of its storage facilities (buildings, vaults, archives, monuments, tablets, books), the city became capable of transmitting a complex culture from generation to generation, for it marshaled together not only the physical means but the human agents needed to pass on and enlarge this heritage.”

“What are the non-textual, un-recordable forms of cultural memory? These questions are especially relevant for marginalized populations, indigenous cultures, and developing nations.” Especially related to quantization, how does always labeling and quantizing our data affect these forms of information? These forms cannot be reduced to ‘information’ nor can they be ‘processed’ easily within our digital systems. “Yet they are vital urban intelligences that live within bodies, minds, and communities.”

# Computational Metaphors

Does this only appeal to us because of the recent obsession of computation as a metaphor?

Historically, we’ve analogized the brain (and the city) to technologies of our time. For example, we’ve compared the brain to “lumps of clay infused with spirits, as hydraulic or electro-chemical systems, as automata.”

The brain as computer is just the latest link in a long chain of metaphors that powerfully shape scientific endeavor in their own images.

# Event Notes